A Love Letter to My Fellow Rape Survivors Part 3: How We Might Reclaim Our Power

Photo Courtesy Morgan Jo Photography

Sometimes there are points in your life of such clarity that you are able to completely reframe how you function and live in this world.  Last night was one of those moments.

It’s good to have friends.  It’s great to have friends who get it.  Who know you so damn well, they say things that fundamentally help you understand exactly why you are feeling what you’re feeling–who suddenly unearth the causes of the pain you’ve been feeling.  For so long I’ve felt as though I’m continually at a bottom of a well, clueless as to how I got there, clawing my way to get out, and last night, one of the most important people in my life reached down to the very bottom of that well and pulled me out.

For those who know me well, and who follow this blog, you know I struggle very much with mental health issues.  Depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, ADHD, and for whatever reason, this semester has been one of the most difficult semesters I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve had more days where I cry for no reason.  I’ve had more panic attacks, and feelings of such despair I’ve wished for illness and sickness so I could just take some time to run away from those horrible feelings–be free of all my responsibilities–and take a vacation from the constant negative internal monologue running through my brain.  What I wouldn’t give to have a remote control to just turn my brain off.  I am also a rape survivor and have written and researched this topic extensively.  Though I feel as though I’ve worked through much of the pain associated with this type of violence, I realized last night that even with all of the lectures I’ve given on this topic, the number of pieces I’ve devoted to this topic, a part of me never made peace with what happened.

This semester I went back to counseling.  I’m exercising more than I have in my entire life.  I’m learning how to do yoga properly, meditating, and figuring out how to take care of myself so I can get through the day.  I’m working on being present and mindful–to not get stuck in my prefrontal cortex that reevaluates the past and focuses on the future–a way of being  Buddhists call “suffering.”  And it’s helping.  But every day is still a struggle.

For those of you who suffer from anxiety or OCD, you know much of it has to do with control or feeling as though you’ve lost control.  When you feel as though everything around you is out of control, deep cleaning your apartment or color coordinating your closet can give you a semblance of control.  If you’ve only ever been in dysfunctional relationships, you find yourself figuring out ways to sabotage a healthy relationship because, again, your brain tells you that inserting drama into this healthy relationship seems like you have power over *something* when other parts of your life lie out of the realm of things you have a say in.

“So what has changed?”  My friend asked last night.  Last semester, even with everything going on in Wisconsin, I still loved my job.  I looked forward to going to work every day.  I didn’t have spans of hours where I simply couldn’t get out of bed or stop crying.  Life may have not been perfect, but for the most part I was happy.  And on paper, I have so much to be grateful for.  So what changed?

I’m still trying to figure that out, but it’s absolutely possible that nothing has changed.  That my “off switch” simply won’t let my brain relish in all of the amazing things I should be grateful for, and is intent on focusing solely on the negative–that which is out of my control–and that I’ve simply lost the coping skills I once had to deal with the anxiety that has always been there.

And then my friend said something that will forever change how I view what is currently going on and how I can regain my power.  He said, “You need to remember, something happened in 1997 that changed the course of your life forever.  You were raped.  You lost your virginity through that rape.  Your parents were going through a divorce.  Everything that you held dear slipped out of your life through no fault of your own.  You lost so much.  You lost control.  You lost your power.”  And then he said this:

Every time you allow yourself to let your anxiety get the best of you, he wins.

Every time you question the healthy relationship you are in, he wins.

Every time you question your decision to teach, to do the job you love, he wins.

Every time you can’t get out of bed, and cry, and let the sadness take over, he wins.

Every time you spend hours disinfecting the apartment to gain a sense of control, he wins.

Every time you tell yourself you’re not good enough, that you question your abilities, your intellect, your beauty, and your worth, he wins.

No one, no one in my life has ever put it that way.  For so long, I’ve allowed the man who took so much from me to continue to rule my life–how I feel about myself.  I’ve allowed him to sabotage all that is good in my life through self-doubt.  That is where it began and though I’ve gone to counselors, done everything in my power to control the uncontrollable, I’ve allowed him to be in the driver’s seat of my life.

Today, and for the rest of my days in this world, he no longer wins.

I will still suffer from anxiety.  I will always suffer from mental illness.  There will be good days and bad.  But reminding myself that every time I choose to engage in destructive behavior or entertain untrue thoughts about my self-worth that I’m allowing him to win–to continue to wield power over me–my hope is that instead of feeling sad and overwhelmed, I will get angry, and, well, that feels empowering.  That is power.

For those who suffer from mental illness, we know much of it is irrational, and that searching for root causes might help, but our brains are just wired differently, and that that’s ok.  But for me, this was a breakthrough.

It’s been less than 24 hours since this breakthrough, so I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this.  I will do everything in my power, in all aspects of my life, within the realm of what I can do mentally and physiologically to not let him win anymore.  To not let him dictate how I choose to view myself.  To view myself how others view me and believe them when they tell me I’m a good person.  That I deserve to love and be loved fully.  That I’m not damaged.  That I’m thriving and that what I do makes a difference.  That I am strong.  That I am good.

Today he doesn’t win anymore.  Today I win.  I am taking control back from him.  I am taking everything he stole from me and reclaiming it: my power, my self-worth, my dignity.  Today, and for the rest of my life, he doesn’t win anymore.

To those who have experienced the hell that is sexual assault and violence, my wish for you is that you no longer allow the person or persons in your life who stole something from you to win, either.  Because today, for me, it feels pretty damned great.  Peace and love to you all.